The hidden danger of Mr Potato Head’s gender neutrality.

Mr Potato Head will now be known as Potato Head. The popular toy is no longer male according to Hasbro and the decision set social media alight as people reacted to the gender labelling of a plastic toy. People wanted to know why the decision was made, why it was made now, and the wider social implications of the decision.

At any time, did Hasbro consider the hidden danger of declaring Potato Head gender neutral; the danger that the decision trivialises the issue of gender neutrality in humans?

Potato Head is not a person. Potato Head is a plastic toy. It has no emotions, no intelligence, no feelings and no personality. It is not a sentient being. A toy cannot decide its own gender and a toy has never suffered the personal or public trauma of grappling with gender identity. A toy will never be teased. A toy has never been cast out or shunned by its peers, colleagues, friends or family.

A toy does not have to live in a body it despises due to societal, familial, cultural or religious pressure. A toy does not have to decide whether to identify as gender neutral, or to go further and undergo a physical transition from its gender of birth.

A toy is just pieces of moulded plastic.

The danger of declaring a plastic toy gender neutral is that people who label themselves gender neutral can now be compared to a plastic toy.

“So you’re gender neutral, just like Mr Potato Head,” others will say.

Furthermore, the toy will still exist as Mr Potato Head – just the branding on the box will change. What’s the point?

This further trivialises the issue of gender neutrality -as if Hasbro is saying,

“We will make a stand on a social issue, but not if it means we sell fewer toys…”

If toys become gender neutral, can other inanimate objects be declared gender neutral?

Let’s not beat around the bush, Hasbro made this decision with a purely commercial motivation and accompanied it with all the right corporate euphemisms. Hasbro claims the change aims to ‘promote gender equality and inclusion’, but clearly the move also posited Hasbro as a socially responsible company which is set to gain considerable PR benefit.

Potato Head is also an ageing ‘brand’. The Toy Story franchise is now old, and children have moved on to other toys and other cartoons. Declaring the toy gender neutral earns the company international publicity which is likely to increase sales.

Is this why Mrs Potato Head is still female?

Will Hasbro wait for her husband’s publicity to die down before declaring her neutrality?

Perhaps gender neutrality also allows Hasbro to sell more individual pieces, belonging to both genders, to stick onto the base shape of the Potato. This mix and match technique made Potato Head, and Mrs Potato Head, somewhat unique as a toy, but also created a marketing opportunity:

“Now that Potato Head is gender neutral,” Hasbro can say “you can add even more pieces to its ‘body’ – and you can buy them all right here…”

Is it only a matter of time before Woody, Buzz and the remaining Toy Story characters are declared gender neutral, and when this happens, how much damage will have been done to actual human beings who identify as gender neutral?

Image: http://www.theguardian.com

I Thought You Were A Woman.

Someone I have never met told me they thought I was a woman. I’m not. They made this assumption based on my Instagram account.

The person is a friend of a friend and stumbled upon my Instagram account, as people do within the world of social media. They requested to follow, I accepted, and they perused my photos.

The person then messaged me in surprise and told me that she thought I was female.

Why?

Because of the content of my Instagram posts.

Essentially, all of my posts depict nature or books. Once I’ve read a book that I like, I take a photo of the cover and maybe and excerpt from the book and I post it on my account. Actually, I haven’t done this for a while, I think I just forgot.

Otherwise, my Instagram account contains images of nature. When I go hiking, cycling, camping or into nature, I like to take photos of sunsets, beaches, plants, trees, skylines and animals. I’d like to have more photos of animals but they’re hard to capture with a basic smartphone lacking a decent zoom. If I do capture an animal it’s always a bonus.

Almost every one of my posts depicts lakes, rivers, mountains, trees, rocks, sand, sun and surf, because I love nature and try to spend as much time in it as possible. My account contains almost no images of myself.

I don’t like appearing on camera and I’m not vain or beautiful enough to be an Instagram model, so I don’t take many selfies. I do appear in other people’s photos or have friends take photos of me, but I just have no interest in posting them online.

I explained to the woman that I am in fact a man, and we had a good laugh about it. It did make me think, however.

Why would someone think that I was female after seeing photos of books and nature?

Have we been conditioned to think that an interest in or respect for nature is feminine? Can only women appreciate and express an appreciation for nature, and is this linked to a woman’s role as a nurturer and care giver?

If this is the case, does it explain the current state of the world’s climate and the natural environment?

Mother Earth, as we often call it, is in trouble after years and years of human abuse, and this abuse is continuing even though we now know better. We now know that previous practices are harming the planet upon which we rely for our survival but we continue with these practices.

Is this cycle of destruction perpetuated because men still rule the world? Certain organisations, businesses and countries have a woman in the top job, but the system which was created by men is still controlled by men. If a man is not expected to love nature, even via an Instagram account, protecting the environment into the future will be very difficult, because men are still making most of the decisions which determine the state of the planet.

Is it time to give women a turn? Really give them a turn. Not just appoint a few women to the position of national or corporate president, not just vote women onto boards or executive positions, but replace men in large numbers at every level of government, business and other sectors of society. Men had their turn running the world, the planet is in very bad shape, so maybe it’s time they were replaced.

If the men running the world were the starting players on a sporting team, their results suggest it’s time they were taken off and replaced by those who have been waiting their turn on the reserves bench.

Can you love nature and still be a man?

Do we have to change paradigms of masculinity to include respect for nature and pride in publicly expressing a love for the natural world?

Do we need to reach a point at which assumptions cannot be made about someone’s gender because they display images of nature on a social media account?